Helvetica’s 50-year anniversary celebrations in 2007 were overwhelming and contagious. We saw the movie. Twice. We bought the shirts and the buttons. We dug out the homage books and re-read the hate articles. We mourned the fading non-color of an old black shirt proudly exclaiming that “HELVETICA IS NOT AN ADOBE FONT”. We took part in long conversations discussing the merits of the Swiss classic, that most sacred of typographic dreamboats, outlasting its builder and tenants to go on alone and saturate the world with the fundamental truth of its perfect logarithm. We swooned again over its subtleties (“Ah, that mermaid of an R!”). We rehashed decades-old debates about “Hakzidenz,” “improvement in mind” and “less is more.” We dutifully cursed every single one of Helvetica’s knockoffs. We breathed deeply and closed our eyes on perfect Shakti Gawain-style visualizations of David Carson hack’n'slashing Arial — using a Swiss Army knife, no less — with all the infernal post-brutality of his creative disturbance and disturbed creativity. We then sailed without hesitation into the absurdities of analyzing Helvetica’s role in globalization and upcoming world blandness (China beware! Helvetica will invade you as silently and transparently as a sheet of rice paper!). And at the end of a perfect celebratory day, we positively affirmed √ la Shakti, and solemnly whispered the energy of our affirmation unto the universal mind: “We appreciate Helvetica for getting us this far. We are now ready for release and await the arrival of the next head snatcher.”
The great hype of Swisspalooza ‘07 prompted a look at Max Miedinger, the designer of Neue Haas Grotesk (later renamed to Helvetica). Surprisingly, what little biographical information available about Miedinger indicates that he was a typography consultant and type sales rep for the Haas foundry until 1956, after which time he was a freelance graphic designer — rather than the full-time type designer most Helvetica enthusiasts presume him to have been. It was under that freelance capacity that he was commissioned to design the regular and bold weights of Neue Haas Grotesk typeface. His role in designing Helvetica was never really trumpeted until long after the typeface attained global popularity. And, again surprisingly, Miedinger designed two more typefaces that seem to have been lost to the dust of film type history. One is called Pro Arte (1954), a very condensed Playbill-like slab serif that is similar to many of its genre. The other, made in 1964, is much more interesting. Its original name was Horizontal. Here it is, lest it becomes a Haas-been, presented to you in digital form by Canada Type under the name of its original designer, Miedinger, the Helvetica King.
The original film face was a simple set of bold, panoramically wide caps and figures that give off a first impression of being an ultra wide Gothic incarnation of Microgramma. Upon a second look, they are clearly more than that. This face is a quirky, very non-Akzidental take on the vernacular, mostly an exercise in geometric modularity, but also includes some unconventional solutions to typical problems (like thinning the midline strokes across the board to minimize clogging in three-storey forms).
This digital version introduces four new weights, ranging from Thin to Medium, alongside the bold original. The Miedinger package comes in all popular font formats, and supports Western, Central and Eastern European languages, as well as Esperanto, Maltese, Turkish and Celtic/Welsh. A few counter-less alternates are included in the fonts.